During a browse around Borders, I noticed a newly minted edition of John Hersey’s Hiroshima featuring a colour-enhanced photo of the skeletal, eerily beautiful Peace Memorial Dome that survived the bomb. Finding this 2009 edition was a matter of days after Barack Obama accepted the invitation from the Mayors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki to be the first US President to visit the two cities hit by atomic bombs. The date has yet to be fixed, as his recent Asia tour wouldn’t allow sufficient time to do such a historic visit justice.
Back to the book: I found my own copy at a vintage bookshop in Chichester, with the iconic original 1940s Penguin cover (orange bands top and bottom). I was surprised to see a fresh edition on the bookshelves, and a quick check of the publishing dates explained why. The two most recent ed’s were in 2002 – when I emigrated to the UK – and 2004 – the year I was married. I wasn’t likely to be scouring the bookshelves as I normally like to do during those years. This being my first experience with a copy yet to be coffee-stained or have its spine broken, it was like fresh hope for a whole set of new readers from 2009 onwards.
The new edition also resonates well with the US President’s pledges regarding nuclear disarmament. He reiterated this desire in his speech in Tokyo last weekend; the assembled great and good appeared relieved at the mention, though there was the now typical reserve of enthusiasm that meets any promise made by both Obama and PM Hatoyama. Both men are dealing with nations that suffered from too much of the same, for far too long. But I digress…
Hersey’s Hiroshima is a straight up, intensive, quick read that has left its recorded memories in my mind for good. WWII is by far the most difficult subject of my Japan reading, and I can’t even get started on the movies. Well, about 8 years ago I saw Sayonara with Marlon Brando and the Oscar-winning Miyoshi Umeki but it was more gorgeous than genuinely upsetting (daringly so on both counts, considering it was made in 1957).
For a first-person look at modern Hiroshima, you can check out Lioness in Japan’s blog about her October trip to the area. I know it sounds soppy, but you do wonder at the ability of human civilization to flourish and progress so beautifully after something so devastating. Alright, attempted poetic moment over.
Note: the coffee-stains on my Penguin vintage editions are my way of showing love to them…and making them smell good forever